Box.net is one of my favorite online storage services, not only because of its various widgets, which are as pretty as they are functional, but also for its design and UI, which shares a lot in common with the file browser built into your computer's operating system. This morning Box.net is launching the first phase of what I think is an exciting new platform called OpenBox. It's a new system for integrating third-party sites and services to Box.net. If you're familiar with Omnidrive's WebFS initiative, OpenBox is slightly similar, attempting to give consumers not only a central storage drive for their files from different Web services, but also create a platform that others can integrate their systems to make things intuitive, and less of a hassle for the end user.
This morning they're launching with 10 services, with plans to make their integration solution available early next month. The big draw to OpenBox is that you're going to be able to open up files in any pertinent third-party Web service that can interact with the file, along with being able to access and save files to your Box.net Web storage from these "away" sites. Up until now, this has been implemented most notably with Zoho, who has its own API for tying into other services (including Box.net). The idea behind OpenBox is that any service will be able to integrate Box.net storage using the full platform launch which goes live December 5.
In many ways OpenBox feels a lot like Facebook apps platform, in that you can add and remove respective applications whenever you feel like it. When a service has been added, you'll see it as an option in a file's contextual menu to open or edit if it's one of the supported file formats. It's also similar to what happens once you've installed a program on your computer. Supported file formats, in part, is what service owners will be able to specify when they sign up to be included in OpenBox. The only problem I can foresee with this is when you've got so many third-party services added that the contextual menus get crowded, a problem that Box.net is going to have to deal with when there are 10 or more services trying to open up your MS Word documents.
The 10 "soft launch" partners launching with Openbox are Zazzle, Picnik, eFax, Scribd, ThinkFree, Zoho, Twitter, Myxer, EchoSign, and Autodesk Freewheel. Here are three I think are particularly useful:Echosign, the digital signature service we took a look at back in September is providing secure digital signature services for any supported document that resides on your Box.net account. You can do the whole thing without leaving your files, which is pretty handy. Autodesk Freewheel works with any CAD file to let you see a quick live preview right from your files. I saw this one in action, and it's especially cool as you're able to actually look at blueprints and zoom in and out without having to load up a desktop application or leave the file browser. While I think architects and interior designers are probably happy using their own systems, it's pretty neat to have this technology built into a file browser that will run on any Web-connected computer, regardless of if you have CAD software on it or not. Picnik's integration lets you open or edit a photo using Picnik's interface, as well as save the edited version back to your Box.net account, again without having to leave the file browser. You're not getting a stripped down version of Picnik either, it's the whole app.